Individuals in China who are pushing for rule of law and accountability from the government are not isolated cases -- they are part of a collective effort to establish the country's civil society.
When Ai Weiwei was arrested, milk activist Zhao Lianhai spoke out on Tuesday, telling the authorities to leave the artist alone. "I told them that if they are stepping up the crackdown [on dissidents], they should start with me," Zhao said.
But the 38-year-old father whose child was sickened by melamine-laced milk was punished for speaking out.
On Wednesday he was taken away by police for questioning and threatened to throw him back in jail if he continued to speak out about other dissidents.
This warning only emboldened him -- he said he would go on a hunger strike and was prepared to die. Zhao claimed he tried to reason with police to re-examine the situation and realize how extreme their actions were, not to mention illegal.
"I repeatedly told them the situation would only get worse, or even spin out of control if they didn't change their attitude," Zhao added. "I also said, 'I know you're part of the [authoritarian] system and I understand your fear... but I still hope there's some effort that can be made to alleviate the tension'. I was really hoping they would have a good think. I told them that would be good for the next generation as well."
It's very daring of Zhao to say these things, but unfortunately they are in vain. It's impossible to reason with police who have been given orders from above. The last thing they want to do is lose their jobs.
In any event, it's the treatment of Zhao in prison that is even more shocking.
He told a Hong Kong newspaper on March 11 that he was force fed mainland-produced milk -- a horrific reminder of how his five-year-old son and some 300,000 children were sickened and six died by drinking melamine added to milk.
Zhao had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for "provoking quarrels and making trouble" and was given parole in December after mounting pressure from Hong Kong politicians and the public.
He was kept in an empty ward in Anzhen Hospital for 18 months and only allowed to go home after he lost his temper.
When they started force-feeding him the mainland-produced milk powder, Zhao said, "I threw up for half an hour."
He went on a hunger strike and said if they were going to force feed him, they had to use imported milk powder or congee. For two days they fed him imported milk powder and then officials tried to strike a deal with him, promising him medical parole.
However, he said: "Finally when everything was agreed, they asked me to give up my appeal and confess."
Zhao said he felt tricked after state media released a note he had written to his lawyer that claimed he admitted his guilt to justify his sentence. At the time many questioned the authenticity of the note.
And now Zhao could go back to jail any time now, another high-profile activist who is only fighting for the next generation, for a better government that cares for its children.